American realist painter George Bellows (1882 - 1925) takes up temporary residence in the Sackler Wing of the Royal Academy until 9th June 2013.
An observer of the people, Bellows work documents a city in transition at the beginning of the 20th Century. George Bellows moved to New York at the age of 22 years to study art & was inspired by a mixture of the chaos & excitement ever-present in the city, which changed by the day. Particular attention was paid to the impoverished working-class & immigrant populous & the overcrowded, filthy surroundings they found themselves in. Viewing New York City from Bellows perspective provides an alternative reality to what was proposed by other artists of his generation. Bellows tended to the harsh realities he witnessed in the New York of his era.
New York, 1911
His search for the raw, gritty experience of city living led him to massive construction projects that transformed the city such as ‘Pennsylvania Excavation’ (1907) recording the formation of 8 acres of high rise blocks in the city centre. He captured the mania of illegal prize fighting & the frenzied atmosphere around such events in 'Stag at Sharkey’s' (1909) with the brushstrokes as brutally applied as the subject being depicted. He used portraiture that was normally reserved for the upper classes to depict those living on the periphery of society. His urban landscapes chronicle the rise of a City that became great through its struggle.
Pennsylvania Excavation, 1907 Stag at Sharkey’s, 1909
Although Bellows never ventured beyond the shores of his native America he regularly stared out to sea, which served as inspiration to a number of works in this display. His earlier works such as 'Rain on the River', 1908 focused on the Hudson River. From 1911, however, Bellows escaped the metropolis each summer to focus on seascapes in Maine. 'An Island in the Sea', 1911, was known to be one of his proudest achievements.
Bellows used texture & brushstroke to great effect to concoct the realities of the environments he mimicked. Whether it be the roughly applied oils to depict gravel & dirt churned out by the digging in Pennsylvania Excavation, or the explosive energy & crashing waves of the sea in his later works, Bellows creations were laced with emotion.
North River, 1908
Also present in this display is a sample of Bellows War series as he turned his attentions to the subject of the First World War in 1918. This series was greeted with controversial review as upon reflection it was challenged that Bellows lack of War time activity rendered him unworthy of depicting such atrocities & therefore these works were deemed meaningless to some. Despite this it still provides an interesting insight into the propaganda being circulated from Europe referencing the activity of the Germans as much of what he depicted from articles read was later found to be false.
The premature death at the age of 42 years cut short the artist’s thriving career & it is felt that he had much more to achieve as he adapted his art to suit the environment with varying levels of competency. Nevertheless there are few who offer such a profile of the changing face of New York during the modernisation of the city securing its place as the international power it has become since.
Forty two kids, 1907 Men of the Docks, 1912
This exhibition covers Bellow’s career between 1905 - 1925 featuring 39 paintings, 15 drawings & 17 lithographs.